Rules that Matter

counsel of horsesThe young horses tend to gather at the northeast corner of the pasture each afternoon. There, they tease each other, chase each other, and just generally enjoy each other’s fellowship.

One afternoon, the conversation drifted to discussing The Master’s expectations. Archie, the 2-year-old stud colt, pricked his ears at this topic.  Although Archie had spent time with The Master, his real training was just beginning.

Cinch, the young roan, believed himself an expert on all things related to The Master. After all, he had been trailered to rodeos and trail rides more than any of the other young horses.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” said Cinch, “when Master leads you through the pasture gate, he expects you to promptly spin your hindquarters to the left.”

“That’s for sure!” enjoined Sonny, the handsome paint horse. “That took me a while to figure out.  I used to sometimes get hung up halfway through the gate and just stand there wondering what to do.  It took me a while to figure out I was supposed to walk past Master, through the gate, swinging my hindquarters to the left.  I finally got it figured out, though.”

“Same here!” laughed Cinch. “Boy did I feel stupid standing there looking at The Master, wondering what to do.  You don’t want to make that mistake, Archie!  Take my word for it.  Every time Master leads you through the pasture gate, always promptly spin your hindquarters left.  Then, as Master closes the gate take one step back.  As Master leaves the gate, take another step back followed by a right shoulder turn as you fall in step behind him.  The smoother you learn to do all that, the better Master likes it.”

“Wow! That’s a lot to remember,” sighed Archie, as he contemplated the shame of getting hung up not knowing what to do.

“What if Master leads out the other pasture gate?” queried Buck, the little buckskin the Master’s grandchildren loved to ride.

“What are you talking about?” Cinch’s eyes narrowed and his ears swiveled back as though he’d just been challenged.

“I’m talking about that gate at the shed,” answered Buck, ignoring Cinch’s agitation. “That gate swings the other direction, and Master expects a right hindquarter swing as you come through.”

“That’s true!” agreed Knockout, the young sorrel who’d spent so much time riding the gravel roads with Master, in recent months. “On right-hinged gates, Master generally asks for a left hindquarter turn and on left-hinged gates he generally asks for a right hindquarter turn.  It all depends on the situation.”

“Oh my!” muttered Archie in wide-eyed wonder as he recited the growing list of rules, “Right-hinged left spin. Left-hinged right spin.  Then two steps back and follow through with an opposite-direction shoulder turn.”

“Exactly!” Buck confirmed.

“Guys! Guys!  You’re going to confuse the poor kid,” admonished Cinch.  “Can’t you see he’s feeling overwhelmed?  He can’t learn all the rules in one afternoon.  Master doesn’t use the shed gate often, anyway.  Let the poor kid focus on learning the rules for the main gate he’ll be using most of the time, anyway.”

“But,” responded Buck, “If he only learns half a rule, he’ll be even more confused when he encounters an exception. He needs to learn all the rules and all the exception clauses, or he’ll be lost.”

“Look,” countered Cinch, “I’m just saying it’s best to focus first on the normal expectations then let him figure out the exceptions later. We haven’t even got him out the pasture gate yet, and you’re already confusing him.  There’s a ton of other things he needs to learn.  Like, when Master takes you off property always turn right at the end of the driveway.”

“That’s for sure!” Sonny affirmed. “You may as well get that down right now, and save yourself a lot of trouble later.  End of the driveway always means a right turn.”

“One time, Master and I spent two hours circling the end of the driveway while I figured that one out,” chuckled Knockout.

“Except, one time Master took me left at the end of the driveway,” countered Buck.

Cinch swiveled to face Buck, ears pinned and nostrils dilated, “No way! That rule never changes.  It’s always right at the end of the driveway.  No exceptions!”

“I’m telling you,” Buck responded, “one time Master took me left, all the way to the blacktop highway, before he turned around and brought me back.”

Cinch glared indignantly at Buck, “No way! Master would never do that!  It sounds to me like you’ve been listening to the wrong master, Buck.”

“I know The Master, and I know where he led me. He went with me every step of the way,” Buck persisted.

“It’s true Cinch,” Knockout came to Buck’s defense. “Every once in a while, Master will take me left at the driveway, too.  I think he does it on purpose just to make sure I’m paying attention and listening to him.  He seems to like changing things up from time to time.  In fact, I’m not even sure we’re going about this discussion from the right perspective.  It seems to me Master is more concerned with my knowing how to respond to his cues.”

Facing Archie, Knockout continued, “Kid, the important rules to remember are Master’s cues. When Master squeezes your sides, move forward.  When Master presses your left side move right.  When Master presses your right side move left.  When Master pulls on the bit, stop and back up.  Those are the important rules.”

Wide-eyed, Archie recited the rules back, “Left side, right. Right side, left.  Both sides, forward.  Pull, stop.  Wow!  How will I ever remember all these rules and exceptions?”

A deep chuckle interrupted the discussion as the young horses turned to see LaDoux had approached unnoticed. LaDoux, the sorrel gelding with white spots either side of his withers, was the oldest and wisest horse in the pasture.  “You youngsters have a lot to learn!  Cinch, Knockout is much nearer the truth than you.  It’s not about learning a bunch of rules and exceptions.  It’s about listening to The Master and responding to his cues.”

As Knockout lifted his head and preened his ears forward in pride, LaDoux continued, “But that’s not the most important thing either, because cues sometimes change. Master likes to teach softer cues as we become ready to learn them, and sometimes new cues are required as we mature into new jobs.”

“Archie,” LaDoux continued gently, “There are only two rules that really matter. The first rule is to trust Master.  Really, really trust him, knowing you can do whatever he asks without worrying about anything.  The second rule is to watch out for other horses and treat each other with respect.  That’s all you really need to remember.  Master will teach you everything else you need to know.  In fact, when you forget these two main rules, Master will remind you of those as well.  Trust Master to teach you all you need to know and quit worrying about memorizing rules and exception clauses.”

On hearing this sage advice, Archie breathed a sigh of relief, felt his tense muscles relax, and sensed his worried emotions calm in renewed trust that Master will always care for him.

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:35-40)

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

Your thoughts?

 

Over-Trying

The trainer called him training-resistant…said he forgot everything he’d been taught from one day to the next…said he advised selling him and buying a better prospect.

I decided not to sell him.

There was just something about him.

Partly, it was his excellent pedigree.  Largely, it was his sweet nature…his soft eye…the way he acted like he genuinely enjoyed human interaction.  Mostly, it was recalling how when we first brought him home it was obvious he had never been lead-line lunged, yet it took only a few minutes to have him walking and trotting smooth circles around me.

In short, I didn’t believe what the trainer told us, despite his credentials.  The trainer’s professional testimony didn’t match my own personal experience with this particular horse.

So I decided to take on his training, myself.

Now, after six months working with him, I feel I have the right to my own opinions of this horse’s sweet nature.

He’s definitely not resistant to training. In fact, he’s super smart and very eager to please.

In theory, that should make him really easy to train. However, he still manages to challenge my very amateur training skills.  I have no doubt he’s a great horse…I often question whether I can become a good leader.

We occasionally have days where everything seems to click and I find myself riding this wonderfully responsive majestic creature. Those days I truly feel I’m holding his feet in my hands as we smoothly transition from side-passes to counter-arcs and back again with a 2″ slide of my calf forward and back.  Those days, we transition up from a walk to and trot or from a trot to a lope on nothing more than an inhale of breath…then transition back down on an exhale and relaxing into the saddle…all on a loose rein.  Those days, it feels like the sky is the limit…like I’m only one ride away from teaching this horse to do anything I want him to do.  Those days are amazing!

And those days are usually followed by a day that seems a bit disappointing in comparison…where nothing seems to click quite right…where communication is a struggle…where transitions are jerky…where I have to over-cue to get the desired response…where it seems we’ve forgotten everything we learned from the last ride. On those days, the trainer’s words come back to haunt me as seeds of doubt sprig up.

Then I listen to my horse…really pay attention to his responses…and I realize. The issue is neither stubbornness nor stupidity.  The issue is a really smart horse working really hard to please…whose expectations don’t quite match my own.  He wants so much to please that he tries to anticipate what I want before I ever ask.

Yesterday we backed thru turns after stops…so today he follows every stop by immediately starting to pivot inward. When I block the turn, he starts to pivot the other direction.  When I block the outward turn, he tries to back up.  When I block the back, he side-passes to the fence to stop and relax…because yesterday we finished out the ride learning to relax standing parallel to the gate.

He’s not being resistant. On the contrary, his every move is an attempt to do what he thinks I want…before I have a chance to ask for it.

He definitely remembers yesterday’s lesson!

This is not a poor memory issue.  This is an issue of miscommunication and mismatched expectations.  He remembers enjoying the smoothness of yesterday’s ride as well as I do.  And after thinking about it overnight, he has resolved to do even better today, by doing what I want before I even ask for it.  But what I really want is for him to respond promptly and smoothly when I asknot before I ask.

At this point, I have a choice. I can get frustrated at his seemingly erratic behavior, tense up, and try to straighten him out by over-cuing everything.  He, in turn, will likely respond with confusion and frustration of his own.  He will become tense, making learning more difficult, and we’ll wind up finishing the ride on a bad note, both baffled by the other’s behavior.

Or, I can laugh! I can lighten up, recognize his attempts to anticipate for what they are, laugh at the miscommunication, and appreciate this wonderful animal for his good-natured willingness to try to please.  I can set the mood for lightheartedness and joy…and he’ll respond with softness and grace.  The ride may not be perfect, but the relationship deepens with increased trust and improved communication.

And that’s a lesson I can carry into other relationships.

When frustration mounts, I can choose, instead, to laugh! I can lighten up, recognize the miscommunications for what they are, and appreciate the other person for who they are.  The moment may not be perfect, but the relationship deepens with increased trust and improved communication.

And I suspect my Heavenly Father often laughs at my miscues just as I laugh at my horse’s misguided anticipated moves. How often do I persist in doing what I think will please Him when all He really wants is for us to enjoy time together as I learn to listen and respond to His ask?  How often does He choose to lighten up and laugh at my miscues, while appreciating my willingness to try and my desire to please?

How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!
O Lord, they walk in the light of Your countenance.
In Your name they rejoice all the day,
And by Your righteousness they are exalted.
For You are the glory of their strength,
And by Your favor our horn is exalted. (Psalm 89:15-17)

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Dark Scary Places

Sonny and KnockoutI absolutely love spending time with our horses learning horsemanship!

I’m still not much of a horseman, but am constantly learning. I’m at a stage now where I get a big kick out of small changes.  Sometimes it’s a small improvement in an area we’ve worked on…other times it’s a problem that crops up and is handled using newly learned tools.

Last night, I trailered three of our horses to the farrier for hoof trims and shoeing. All three horses are accustomed to trailers and load very easily…until last night.

For some reason, when loading to leave the farrier, each horse hesitated at the trailer door refusing to go in. I’m not sure why…maybe the unusually bright moonlight made the trailer interior look darker and therefore scarier.  Whatever the reason, each horse balked at the trailer door, and no amount of coaxing could persuade them to step inside.

If this had happened two years ago, I would not have known what to do. Facing the same event two years ago, I would probably have tugged and pulled trying to force the horse into the trailer while asking someone else to apply pressure from the back end.  And who knows…I might fall into that same pattern next week…this horsemanship gig is a tortuous journey full of surprising twists and turns for both me and the horses.  It’s a lot like parenting.

Last night, though, was different. Last night, when the first horse refused to load I realized this was neither about lack of understanding nor lack of willingness.  It wasn’t even about loading or not loading.  In fact, it wasn’t really even about the trailer.

The issue to be addressed was lack of confidence.

For whatever reason, that particular horse on that particular evening was not confident about loading in that dark scary-looking trailer. His confidence had been replaced with fear…and it was up to me to regain his confidence.

Now, here is where it gets interesting.

His fear was rooted in the trailer and his lack of confidence was rooted in self. It had nothing to do with me, really.  He was not afraid of me, nor was he challenging me.  He lacked confidence in himself out of fear of the scary-looking trailer.

The solution, however, had nothing to do with the trailer and everything to do with me. I needed to get his focus off the trailer and onto me.  I needed to boost his confidence in me.  His lack of self-confidence needed to be replaced with confidence in me.

We took a few steps away from the trailer and spent about two minutes doing a few basic exercises: step back, step forward, right shoulder turn, right hind-quarter turn, left shoulder turn, left hind-quarter turn, back two steps, forward two steps, back one step, forward one step.

Then I led him into the trailer. No fuss, no bother, no fear…just confidently following me into the trailer to stand quietly while I closed the stall separator.

Then I did the exact same thing with the other two horses, with the same results.

It was wonderful!  🙂

I love when things work out so well.  More importantly, I love when I am able to read a situation well enough to know the solution.  And I love knowing my horses have enough confidence in me to follow my lead.

This morning I realized there are a few life lessons in last night’s events.

Lesson 1: When I am scared, the issue is whatever I fear combined with lack of confidence.  The solution is to move my focus off what I fear and onto Jesus.  With my focus on Jesus, lack of self-confidence is replaced by confidence in Him.

Lesson 2: Placing my focus and confidence in Jesus is best accomplished by simply obeying Him in small things…by following His lead in little things that have nothing to do with the big scary thing.

How does that play out in real life? Lots of ways, but let’s take one current event.

I think most of us are a little (or a lot) concerned about what’s going on politically in the United States, right now. Whomever any of us may have voted for and whatever outcome we hoped for, right now we have a lot of uncertainty as to how exactly things will pan out post-election.  There are a lot of unknowns, and it is natural to fear the unknown (just as it is natural for a horse to fear a dark trailer interior).

The solution is to move my focus off the uncertainties and onto Jesus. I do that by spending time alone with Him and by following His command to “Love one another.”  I do that in daily little things…by treating others with love, respect, and understanding.

As I follow Christ’s lead in these little daily things, my confidence in Him builds and my fear of uncertainty is replaced by confidence in Him.

Your thoughts?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

The Summons

The Summons
A poem by Joseph J. Pote
July 2016

It’s a normal evening at home;
Bright lights, air conditioning,
Television blaring, family busy
With chores and bedtime preparation.

I step outside for a moment.
Closing the front door, I breathe
The peace and calm of a mild summer
Evening in south Arkansas.

Looking around the moonlit lawn,
I feel the first tug.
The moonlight beckons;
The shadow world calls.

From ‘neath the front porch
Shelter, I venture forth.
Through the shade of slender pines,
Breathing their aromatic scent.

Onward to the open moonlight
Gazing full on her shining face,
Drinking in the mystery
Of a shrouded world filled with light.

Yet the summons bids me onward
Toward the pasture gate.
Hesitantly, I lift the latch,
Wondering how long I’ll tarry.

Stepping through the gate,
I gaze in wondrous awe,
Not on our familiar pasture,
But an enchanted magic land.

Though scent of damp earth
And dewy grass combines
With distant cicada song
To anchor heart to ordinary world,

All else tis transformed
To moonlit fairyland
Glistening and shimmering
‘Neath light of lustrous moon.

Where our stagnant pond should lay,
A mirrored lake reflects moonlight;
O’er which a giant sentinel watches
Where our sweet-gum should stand.

Boots swish through damp grass
As my quest leads ever onward
Down hill and up levy to feet of
Giant sentinel who calls.

Yes, calls…though silently.
Not a word he speaks.
No wisdom imparted here,
Just beauty and outstretched arm

Pointing onward into the depths
Of lunar wonderland,
Where shrouded gnomes silently watch
My passage ‘cross wandering stream.

Emerging on the distant bank,
Four mythical creatures of legend
Stride solemnly toward me
On hooves of silent sureness;

Regal their bearing, yet warm,
The creatures draw near to
Counsel with me there, ‘neath
Wondrous moon in enchanted land.

We speak of many things both
Great and small; not in clumsy
Tongues of men, but in fluid equestrian
Language of touch, motion and breath.

I was honored by their counsel
And they by my visit to their world.
We talked ‘til time to take my leave,
Then stood a moment, silent.

What magic moonlight’s wrought to
Transform mundane pasture into wonderland
And ordinary horses into mythical creatures
Of legendary wisdom and majesty!

Back in my everyday world again,
A part of me remains behind…
And part of that magic moonlit night
Remains in me.

Balk Bolt Buck

knockout round

A very relaxed horse at the end of the ride

The last few weeks, I’ve been working with our five-year-old gelding to relax, slow down, and smooth gait transitions. Knockout is a sweet-natured young horse with good confirmation and an excellent pedigree. However, he tends to be tense during rides which can lead to issues.

Last weekend, following a stormy Friday night, our arena was too muddy for riding. So I decided to take Knockout on a trail ride through our back pasture and woods.

In general, Knockout tends to be skittish with woodland trails and water crossings. I assume his west Texas raising didn’t provide much opportunity for either.

Saturday morning we started out. The 8-inch rainstorm left creeks swollen and trees dripping. Needless to say, Knockout had ample opportunity to feel stressed…and I had ample opportunity to ask him to relax.

Knockout tends to respond the same to each stressful obstacle, whether a fast-flowing creek, a low-hanging branch, or a tall vine. First, he balks. He looks for an out…an alternate path. He may try to turn aside, or he may try to turn around. At this stage, his goal is to simply avoid the stressful situation.

As I continue to hold him to the course and nudge him forward, Knockout’s next strategy is to bolt. Basically, he concludes that if the obstacle cannot be avoided, then the next best thing is to get past it as quickly as possible.

Initially, I allow some level of controlled bolting. While I won’t allow him to totally flee the scene, I don’t mind him picking up to a trot past a ‘spook’ then dropping back to a walk. Over time, however, I expect him to take these things in stride without the need to change speed.

Since he was particularly nervous this morning, I decided it was a good time to work past some of his fears.

I picked out one short stretch of trail that he was especially stressed about and looped back over it, working on relaxing and walking calmly. After several cycles, he was calmer, but still had specific trail sections he tried to rush past. So, I began stopping and backing him up each time he broke into a trot. I backed him up to the location he spooked, and dropped the reins. When he tried to step away, I interfered then dropped the reins.

The first time I brought him to a full stop beside a ‘spook’ Knockout responded with an attempted buck. It wasn’t anything malicious, just a natural response to the situation. He was nervous and frustrated, seeking release for pent-up energy, and it came out in a buck. Fortunately, I was ready and caught it quickly. I interrupted the buck then dropped the reins.

Once Knockout relaxed in the full-stop and ceased trying to buck or step away, I prompted him to continue down the path. Before long, he learned what I wanted and relaxed quicker.

By the time we’d circled through the same path about twenty times, Knockout was able to calmly walk the full path. I could literally feel him relax and cease resisting. We continued a very relaxed ride back home and ended on a good note.

As I thought about Knockout’s lesson that day, I realized he saw three possible responses to a tense situation. As he saw it, he could either balk, bolt, or buck…and if the first didn’t work he’d try the next.

My task is to teach him another option…to believe…to simply relax and trust me. That’s not an easy thing. When his fight-or-flight instincts tell him to balk, bolt, or buck, it’s not easy to trust me enough to simply relax.

Now I’m wondering.

How often do I respond to stressful situations with balk, bolt or buck, while God is asking me to believe…to trust? Click To Tweet

How often does the Holy Spirit whisper, “Fear not. Peace, be still. Have faith. Trust in Me,“ as I frantically look for an out or throw a fit?

And how many times do we circle back around to repeat a lesson I haven’t yet internalized?

Lord, please continue to be patient with me. Help me learn to face stressful situations, not with fear, but with confidence in you.

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Wild Flowers, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

 

Fear Not

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Although I am not a horseman, we do own several horses and I do enjoy working with them.  Do not assume this means I know much about horses…I don’t…but I enjoy learning.  🙂 One of our horses is a little … Continue reading

Shadow of His Wings

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We returned from vacation, a couple of weeks ago, to discover seven new additions to our barnyard fowl. The baby chicks are so cute, running around!  Mama Hen, who was previously quite calm-natured, has suddenly become super-protective. And the father, Sammy … Continue reading

Beneath the Cross

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We vacationed, last week, at Anna Maria Island, Florida.  Although stormy weather prevented some of the activities we had planned, we still had an amazing vacation, and enjoyed some beautiful sunsets and moonsets! Several times we passed Gloria Dei Lutheran … Continue reading

John ~ A Canine Athlete

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Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah … Continue reading

Sammy The Game Cock ~ Protector or Bully?

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Sammy is an absolutely beautiful rooster!  The striking colors in his orange head with bright red comb is exceeded only by the lush green of his long tail feathers.  Sammy looks like a perfect living picture of a rooster stepping … Continue reading